By Jamie Kujawa Explorebigsky.com Contributor

I enter the pool and walk up the ramp to assist our next participant, who came into Eagle Mount Bozeman’s Tim and Mary Barnard Aquatic Center in a wheelchair. He leaves this on the deck and is assisted down the ramp with the aid of an exceptional Eagle Mount volunteer.

We walk around in the pool for several minutes to warm up. This session is an hour long, and we work on exercises to increase the participant’s range of motion, strengthen his arms and legs and increase mobility.

“How was your weekend? What kind of trouble did you get yourself into?” We joke with the participant, who is a young, fun-loving guy with a huge heart. “Did you help your mom around the house?”

“Nnnnoooo,” he howls. His grin stretches from ear to ear, and his laughter echoes throughout the aquatic center. (When his mom returns to pick her up, he hollers across the pool to her. “Hi Mom! I love you!”)

After this hour is over, I have three kids swim lesson classes to teach.

When I began in the Eagle Mount Aquatics program, I had no idea what I was getting into. I had worked in pools all my life, so it was natural to continue on this path. Growing up as a competitive swimmer, I appreciated water’s meditative and therapeutic offerings, but never imagined the magnificent possibilities of aqua therapy.

Eagle Mount is a center for therapeutic recreation for people with disabilities and children with cancer. Each of the 50 participants I work with weekly have some disability. Yet, all of these ‘disabilities’ are left at the door because of the culture of warmth and generosity.

Everyone is free to be him or herself and encouraged to fly. Someone who typically doesn’t stand up or walk around anywhere else may do so at Eagle Mount.

The Eagle Mount pool is a modern, five-lane, 25-yard mixture of salt and chlorine water, equipped with a wide, double-railed staircase, a ramp, and a handicap lift for entry. The water is 89 degrees, an ideal temperature to ensure participants’ muscles stay warm and relaxed. The hot tub is even warmer, and offers great entertainment with its bubbling jets. We offer swim skill classes for children, individual therapy sessions, water aerobics and therapeutic exercise classes.

Pat Whitlock, Aquatic Program Director, is proud of the program and takes impeccable care of the facility. Between the fall and winter sessions Whitlock herself scrubbed the pool and the deck. Each of the three pool staff has daily responsibilities for keeping the place spotless. Whitlock’s goal is to provide Eagle Mount participants with a safe sanctuary where they are free to be themselves and reap the healing benefits of water.

Eagle Mount Bozeman is not just a special place. It’s magical. It changes the lives of everyone involved.

When I come to work, I’m happy. I work with a tremendous people, all of whom have huge, open hearts. And I get to be in the water. I smile a lot when I’m at Eagle Mount—not because I have to, but because I can’t help it.

Jamie Kujawa is the Assistant Aquatics Director at Eagle Mount Bozeman and swims competitively with the Bozeman Masters swim club. She always smells like chlorine. To learn more about the programs at Eagle Mount or to make a donation, visit eaglemount.org, or call (406) 586-1781.